New Mexico and the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment for good reason. It is a land of Rocky Mountain heights and vast desert expanses. New Mexico is home to 23 tribes including 19 Pueblos, three Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation. It has astounding Hispanic culture and modern-day metropolises. This itinerary is going to take you through all of it.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
James

States: 
New Mexico

Start/End: 
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Total miles:
1,600

Suggested days: 
At least 14

Type: 
scenic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to the United States, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers, adventure seekers

Suggested season: 
year round

Overview

New Mexico is one of America’s Treasure States. It has a little something for everybody. Like to spend time outdoors? New Mexico has mountains and forests aplenty. History buff? One of the single oldest continually inhabited pueblos, Acoma, is located within the state. Foodie? New Mexico’s vast Hispanic heritage as well as its European influence means some of the best food on the planet can be found within the state’s boundaries. Ever wanted to drive in a straight line under an endless blue sky? The Llanos Escatado is where you can do this. In our New Mexico Itinerary, we will take you through the best of this, and who knows, you might get to see an alien or two along the way. 

How to Prepare

We recommend approximately 14 days for this trip in order to experience each town and activity without feeling too rushed. You have a lot of miles to cover, so we suggest spending at minimum a day at each stop.  This itinerary is full of suggestions of some of the best places to fully experience the area, with overnight stops in the towns along the way. Plan your trip accordingly so that you experience the places that spark your interest the most. These areas can be crowded in the summertime, and for good reason. There are multiple events and the weather is beautiful. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places, however, many roads are closed and you cannot drive into some of the higher elevations. On the other hand, summertime temps in these places can often exceed 100 degrees, so take that into account as you decide your travel dates. The majority of this trip will be short drives between stops, but this is to allow you the most time at all the amazing places that you have traveled so far to see. Though this itinerary is a day to day guide, it is only a guide and you should feel free to adapt it however you want, taking as much time as you need to fully experience this wonderful part of the world.

DAY 1: arrival in Albuquerque to Grants

1 hour 22 minutes/88 miles

Welcome to New Mexico! As you fly in, you may notice that Albuquerque looks like a pretty fun town. And you are right, but we would recommend hanging in the “Duke City” at the end of your trip, and we recommend this for good reason. After your epic road trip, you’ve earned the right to spend a few days pampering yourself in style in this world-class city. But we would recommend getting your trip started by hitting the road and heading due west to to your first destination, Grants. Grants is a fun little town and a great way to kick off your road trip. You are going to be hungry though after all your traveling, so the very first thing we would recommend, is grabbing  your first taste of New Mexican cuisine at at El Cafecito. After that, it’s time to explore Grants.

To read more about all the wonders of Grants, click here.

Best outdoor experience:

El Malpais National Monument

Best short hike:

El Calderon Trail

Best place to get a little history:

New Mexico Mining Musuem

Iconic Americana:

Route 66 Museum

Best Route 66 throwback diner:

The Wow Diner

Best place to have a local brew:

Route 66 Junkyard Brewery

DAY 2: Silver City and the Gila National Forest

4.5 hours/240 miles

The road to Silver City is going to be a beautiful one. The route takes you right through the heart of the Gila National Forest. The forest’s terrain ranges from rugged mountains and deep canyons to mesas and semi-desert. Due to the extremely rugged terrain, the area is largely unspoiled. There are several hot springs in Gila National Forest, including Middle Fork Hot SpringsJordan Hot Springs, and Turkey Creek Hot Springs. There are also many small communities and scenic pull outs and hiking trails for you to take advantage of, so you may want to consider making the drive to Silver City a full day, and spending the next day enjoying all that Silver City has to offer. The Choice is yours! One thing we would recommend, however, is once you arrive in Silver City get a room at the Palace Hotel. It’s a fun place to stay.

Best place to start:

Silver City Visitor’s Center

Can’t miss it:

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Best shopping experience:

Silver City Trading Company

Best place to stretch your legs:

Mimbres River Preserve

Best place to get a little culture:

Western New Mexico University Musuem

Best place to grab dinner and a drink:

Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery

DAY 3: Deming and the City of the Sun

3 hours/163 miles

Today you will continue down Highway 180 to the classic desert oasis of Deming. When you think of a New Mexico town surrounded by the vastness of the Southwestern Desert, you would think of a place just like this. Deming is a starting point for self-guided tours of southern New Mexico including the Florida Mountains and Rockhound State Park, but not withstanding the number of outdoor recreational opportunities, Deming is home to one of the finest museums in the region, the Mimbres Museum and Custom House, offering a glimpse of early Western history and culture.  One side trip that we would highly recommend for those with an adventurous heart, would be the short drive south to the one-of-a-kind town of City of the Sun. City of the Sun, is best described as a haven for artists and eclectics and people who want to be, if nothing else, self sufficient. The residents there are welcoming and eager to show visitor’s their “off the grid” lifestyle. It is a unique American experience and one well worth the journey.

Best place to get some local produce:

Diaz Farms

Best place to buy cowboy boots:

Circle S Western Wear

Best place for dinner:

Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian

DAY 4: The Mystery of Roswell

4.5 hours/243 miles

No true trip to New Mexico would be complete without a trip to Roswell. Famous the world over as the site of the “alleged” crash of an alien spaceship, Roswell today plays host to the true believers, the curious, and those that just want to get in on the fun.  And while, of course, The International UFO and Musuem and Research Center is located here, Roswell is also a town of artists, outdoor enthusiasts, historical districts and fantastic cultural centers. One of these great cultural centers and well worth a visit is the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.  Upon arriving in Roswell, a great centrally-located hotel for the night would be the Clary Sage Bed and Breakfast.

Best hike:

The Oxbow Trail-Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Best place for birdwatching:

J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary

Learn more about the Roswell Mystery:

Roswell Spacewalk

Best place for a stroll:

Roswell Historic District

Best Taco:

El Toro Brazo

Best night out:

Pecos Flavors Winery

DAY 5: Tucamcari and the Staked Plains

2 hours 45 minutes/161 miles

Today you be traveling along the western edge of the Llano Estacado, the famed Staked Plains of the American Southwest.  The Llano is a very flat, semiarid plateau, ranging in elevation from 5000 feet on the northwest to less than 3000 feet on the southeast, sloping more or less uniformly to the east-southeast at a rate of at least 10 feet per mile. It is a vast expanse and your dive to Tucumcari is going to be smooth, flat, straight and stunning under those blue New Mexico skies. Once you get to Tucumcari, get ready to visit a city that holds its history as a stopping route on Route 66 in high regard.  And speaking of, we would recommend getting a room at the Blue Swallow Motel. It is a classic Motor Court that has been in operation since the heyday of Route 66.

Best place for a selfie:

Route 66 Memorial

Can’t miss it:

Route 66 Musuem

Best place to pick up souvenirs:

TeePee Curios

Best way to learn about dinosaurs:

Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Musuem

Where the locals go for Southwest cuisine:

El Herradero

Best morning coffee:

Kix On 66

DAY 6: The Other Las Vegas

2 hours/110 miles

Today you are heading away from the deserts and toward the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and Las Vegas New Mexico. Las Vegas was built before New Mexico became a part of the United States, and its rich Hispanic roots are still evident. The town was laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. This plaza still exists and it should be the first stop you make. Get a room at the Historic Plaza Hotel, before you begin your adventures in this remarkable town. There are a myriad of things to do here, but one thing you definitely not miss out on is the local cuisine. If you can, we would recommend holding off on breakfast until you get to Las Vegas, and then heading directly to El Encanto. It’s right on the plaza and we promise you won’t regret it.

Soak your cares away:

Montezuma Hot Springs

Best hike:

Hermit Peak Trail

Best museum:

Rough Rider Musuem

Best place to find a hidden treasure:

Plaza Antiques

Can’t miss it:

The Historic Downtown Plaza

Best place for dinner:

Dick’s

DAY 7-8: The wonders of Santa Fe

1 hour/70 miles

Santa Fe will definitely be one of the highlights on this trip of highlights. It is one of the oldest continuously occupies locations in North America, the capital of New Mexico, and a wonder of architecture, culture, history, art..and of course…food. We would recommend no less than two days here, just to give you a chance to see and do all there is to see and do. Your first stop when you get into town should be to the Santa Fe Visitor’s Center. They will be able to answer all your questions and point you in the right directions to make your visit unforgettable. Your second stop should be to the Santa Fe Plaza. It is a great place to start exploring.

DAY 9-10: All the splendor of Taos

1.5 hours/70 miles

Jut a short drive up the road, but almost a world away, is the high desert town of Taos. This is another old town. How old? Around 1,000 years old. And we would highly recommend exploring this culture by visiting the Taos Pueblo. The pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States This has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a bucket list destination.  Because of the rich cultural history of the area and the Thousand and One things to do here, we think it would be worth your time to also spend a couple of days here. If nothing else to rest and rejuvenate from your days on the road. We think you will find this town of around 5,700 people to be a warm and welcoming stop on your trip.

To read more about Taos, click here and here.

Best living museum:

La Hacienda de los Martinez

Can’t miss it:

Taos Plaza

Best scenic drive:

High Road to Taos

Shop local:

Taos Farmer’s Market

Soak your cares away:

Black Rock Hot Springs

Eat local:

The Love Apple

DAY 11: Chama

2 hours/95 miles

The Rio Chama Valley is truly one of the hidden gems of New Mexico. Nestled in the northern Sangre De Cristos, the valley has at its gateway the charming village of Chama.  With a population of around 1,000, if you are into photography, painting or being inspired by nature, you will find yourself at home here. One thing we would definitely recommend you do here is to take a ride on a narrow gauge steam train. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad station is in the center of town and runs during the summer months. The  railroad runs into the high country near Cumbres Pass, through scenic Toltec Gorge, and on to its opposite terminus at tiny Antonito, Colorado. Tour options range from half-way trips to and from a station near the Gorge  to round trips to Antonito, with return on either rail or bus. 

Help dig up a dinosaur fossil:

Digs at the Ghost Ranch

Get outside:

Edward Sargent Wildlife Area

Best horse ride:

Fish Tail Ranch

Best place to shop local:

Tierra Wools traditional hand weaving

Best place to see the sunset:

Rabbit Peak

Best place for dinner:

Cliff View Restaurant

DAY 12: Farmington

2 hours/110 miles

Today you are heading over the Sangre De Cristos and through the heart of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. One stop along your drive into Farmington would have to be Dulce, and the Jicarilla Arts and Crafts Shop Museum. Its a great place to buy locally made crafts and learn about the remarkable Jicarilla People. From Dulce it is a short drive into Farmington in the northwest corner of New Mexico. This City is the commercial hub of the Four Corners area and has plenty of things to do, both in the city limits and the amazing natural areas that surround it.

To read more about everything that Farmington has to offer, click here.

Amazing outdoor experience:

The Bisti Badlands

Best place to shop local:

Ship Rock Trading Post

Best museum:

B-Square Musuem

Best place to watch some off-road adventure:

Chokecherry Canyon

Best place to learn about early four-corners people:

Salmon Ruins

Best night out:

Three Rivers Brewery

DAY 13: Gallup

2 hours 15 minutes/124 miles

Your last stop before the big city lights of Albuquerque is Gallup, and what a great town it is. The last stop on Route 66 before Arizona, Gallup Gallup is known as the “Heart of Indian Country” because it is on the edge of the Navajo reservation and is home to members of many other tribes as well. Its history as a major stop on Route 66 well ensconced, Gallup today is known for its lively night time culture downtown, Indian dances during summertime nights, art crawls, and numerous small museums including a Navajo Code Talker museum. Most recently Gallup commissioned a number of murals highlighting local culture and contributions dot downtown. The first thing we would recommend doing when you get into town, is get a room for the night at the historic El Rancho Hotel. It’s a fun place to stay.

Shopper’s Paradise:

Gallup Flea Market

Can’t miss it:

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway

Best place for dinner:

Genaro’s

DAY 14: The Duke City

2 hours 15 minutes/139 miles

Welcome to Albuquerque! The largest city in New Mexico is going to be your playground for the next few days. It’s really up to you how long you want to stay here, but anything less than 2 days would be a shame, because there is just so much to do. From the food, to the history, to the museums and galleries, this is just a truly great town. Albuquerque has 11 distinct neighborhoods, and they each have their quirks and charms. One not to be missed area, however, is the Historic Old Town. You could spend an entire day just in this area alone. Our recommendation to truly get the most out of your stay would be to stop in at the ABQ Visitor’s Information Center. It’s a great place to start. And if you happen to be in town during the first week of OCtober, don’t miss the International Balloon Fiesta. It is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Can’t miss it:

Petroglyph National Monument

Best place to get some culture:

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Recommended Shopping:

Albuquerque Old Town

Best place for a stroll:

ABQ BioPark

Most unique museum:

The Rattlesnake Musuem

Best place for food and fun:

2 Fools Tavern